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Phil Willmott

Review: KNIGHTS OF THE ROSE at the Arts Theatre

Knights of the Rose Pity the cast and creative team behind KNIGHTS OF THE ROSE, the new juke box musical at the Arts Theatre, which promised to be as fun as the stadium rock hits it featured.

Those involved awoke the day after press night to a raft of brutal reviews. So how did this show misfire for so many critics and is there anything for you to enjoy? After all critics panned musicals like The Greatest Showman, We Will Rock you and, infamously Les Miserable, all of which are enduringly loved by audiences.

I think tying the bombastic lyrics to 80's anthems like BLAZE OF GLORY to a medieval tale of chivalry and broadswords is a very good idea and the show lights up during the musical numbers.

The script, alas, is an amalgamation of poe-faced classical poetry and the sources are meticulously listed in the programme. Not only does this invite snobbery from reviewers who'll want to appear protective of the original writers, from Chaucer to Shakespeare, but it leaves no opportunity for humour. We're desperate for the cast to acknowledge the absurdity of a rock & round table mesh up but they have no lines with which to do it. It needs a witty script and fun plot, not the earnest pageant of two dimensional white characters having their hearts broken prom-night style; the women fawn over the men, the men are mainly gruff and buff and misunderstood. It needs an experienced script writer with a wit and panache to match the lyricists of the classic songs. And it also needs someone to cut an hour off the two hours and forty five minutes running time. 

It's strikingly and effectively staged by the brilliant director/choreographer Racky Plews but this is her first time in charge of the complex business of shaping a new piece and perhaps a few more experienced collaborators might have been a good idea. As it stands, only amateur writer, Jennifer Marsden, a barrister, is credited with both the concept and execution of the script. 

So what can we be positive about? Well, those songs are pure gold - including Holding Out For a Hero, Blaze of Glory, Addicted to Love, Total Eclipse of the Heart and even a dash of Mozart - and they're performed with enormous talent and sincerity, even if no one's arranged them to best suit the actors singing ranges. They're a classy line up though, including Adam Pearce, Chris Cowley, Oliver Savile, Rebecca Bainbridge, Rebekah Lowings & Matt Thorpe. 

The lighting does a pretty clever job of pumping the stage with stage smoke so that most of the time you can't tell how rickety and poorly painted the set is. Also, thanks to the smoke and dim lighting many of the costumes look lovely and make everybody look very sexy, even if a few cost-cutting T shirts are in evidence. 

I like to believe I only give bad reviews if a production is lazy or cynical. KNIGHTS OF THE ROSE is neither and I hope they can find enough people who appreciate all the talent, love and hard work that's gone into this well intentioned near-miss.